Two weeks in. That was my first thought this morning when I awoke at 6am. The room was dark in our small hostel room in Quito, Ecuador. I forced myself out of bed. The floors creaked underneath my weight as my feet landed on the floor. I am climbing Cotopaxi today, I said to myself.
Cotopaxi is a volcano south of Quito. Towering at a whopping 19,347ft, one can easily see it piercing the city skyline on a clear day. Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador’s most active volcanoes, its last eruption lasting from August 2015 to January 2016, and is the second tallest peak in the country as well. We had decided to climb this infamous icon and I was tense with excitement and worry as we travelled to the national park. Around 10am, we set out towards the trailhead. Vast plains stretched out far and wide around us. Fluffy clouds swirled around the peaks above us, guarding the summit of our destination. Our guide pointed out Cotopaxi’s two volcanic neighbors as we sped along a dirt road: Rumiñawi Volcano (15,489ft) and Sincholagua Volcano (16,073ft). Both seemed small compared to the monstrous rise of Cotopaxi’s slopes which very quickly consumed our front view. Our climb started at around 13,000ft and it took well over an hour for me and my travel companions to reach Jose Rivas Refuge point (15,953ft). Now, you may think that 3,000ft of elevation change is not much. That’s what I initially thought as well until the effects of high altitude hit me hard. The refuge was a little over a mile from the trailhead but it felt like ten miles. I had a sudden onset of a very uncomfortable headache and had to pause to catch my breath at every switchback. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape but that doesn’t matter when one is not used to hiking above 13,000ft. The wind was bitter cold and you could smell sulfur in the air. My boots would sink into the soft volcanic ash and dirt that made up the trail. To my left, the clouds revealed a massive glacier which coated the summit of Cotopaxi. The land around me was coated in rocks of various sizes and shapes. Ice crowned some of them. No vegetation grew and the ground was a mix of red and grey and black. I felt as if I was on the surface of Mars. Even though I could not breath very well, to put the experience in one word: incredible.
While I did not climb to the very summit of Cotopaxi (an additional 5-6 hour hike which requires ice and snow mountaineering gear and a guide), reaching the refuge was a highlight of this trip. I had never seen, let alone climbed, a volcano before and Cotopaxi now has the honor of being my highest climb. After drinking hot chocolate at the refuge we clambered back down the side of the volcano, our feet sinking into the ash. I laughed as I let gravity do most of the work. What took over an hour to climb up now took twelve minutes to go down. It was liberating.
That was this morning. I am now sitting on my bunk bed in a new hostel. After being stranded on the side of the road by our guide after the hike, two buses and a taxi later, we made it to Baños, Ecuador. A small, lively town nestled at the base of yet another volcano, Tungurahua Volcano, in the province of the same name. I have to say I wasn’t sure what I would write for my first post for this blog. I thought about a writing daily posts, then weekly. I thought about how I would start it and how I would end it. What I would write about consumed most of these thinking sessions. I knew I wanted to share my experiences but I wasn’t sure how. Some say a picture carries a 1000 words and others say a sentence can carry a 1000 feelings. I knew I wanted to be somewhere in between. So after two weeks of thinking and some procrastinating I decided to stop thinking about and just write. I think I’ll stick to this method. I hope to write at least twice a week. A lot has happened in the past two weeks and I intend to slowly but surely release my thoughts. These writings are not for one to live vicariously through me but rather for one to learn, connect, and, most of all, inspire. I strive for understanding. Understanding the people, the places, and the things that connect them together. I hope that by reading my understanding of topics I inspire you to come to your own understanding. Whether that be to question, approve, denounce, or other. Whatever the outcome, I urge you to read my words and reflect.